FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday strongly defended his decision to announce his reopened probe into Hillary Clinton's private email use less than two weeks before the presidential election, saying it was a “hard choice” but the right one.
“Concealment in my view would have been catastrophic,” Comey told Senate lawmakers, a day after Clinton partially blamed the FBI boss for her election defeat. He added that if he were faced with the decision today, he’d do the same thing. “Not speaking would require [an] act of concealment,” he said.
Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was his most extensive public explanation of the events that unfolded just 11 days before the November 2016 presidential election.
Comey said he had to speak up on Oct. 28 because he believed the FBI had found emails that could provide insight into Clinton’s use of a private server and possibly shift the focus of the investigation.
What led the FBI to revisit the investigation was the discovery of thousands of emails on a laptop belonging to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was married to top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin.
“It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact” on the election, he said.
Wednesday’s hearing had been originally billed as a routine congressional oversight hearing but it was clear from the start that senators would likely focus on Russia and the election. Adding fuel to what was already expected to be a fiery hearing were new comments from Clinton blaming Comey in part for her election loss to Trump.
Clinton said Tuesday she was confident she was on track to winning the 2016 presidential race but that two things derailed her: Comey’s Oct. 28 letter notifying Congress he had reopened the investigation into her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state as well as the release of campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails that were allegedly stolen by Russian hackers and released online.
Two days before the election, Comey again wrote to Congress saying the FBI found no new evidence against Clinton – but by then, many political analysts said the damage was already done.
Trump fired back at Clinton’s comment with a pair of Tuesday night tweets that said: “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony… Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”
On the sidelines of Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Comey’s decisions to talk publicly about the Clinton probe and not say anything about a Trump investigation violated FBI policy.
“Director Comey testified that his choice was to ‘conceal or speak’ about the Clinton investigation in the latter two weeks of the campaign,” Schiff said in a statement. “This highly-loaded description meant to justify the decision he made in the waning days of the presidential campaign is a poor characterization of the choice he faced."
Schiff said the “real choice” Comey faced was between abiding by DOJ policy to not discuss investigations around an election or to ignore it.
During the wide-ranging hearing, Comey also testified that Russia is still involved in American politics and criticized Moscow for providing a safe haven for cyber criminals.
The FBI director also dismissed WikiLeaks as a legitimate news source, calling the site “intelligence porn” and arguing that it had become “a conduit for the Russian intelligence services” rather than an outlet for the public. He hinted at “future proceedings.”
Comey was asked if he was ever an anonymous source relating to investigations involving Trump or Clinton.
“Never,” Comey said. He also said he’s never authorized someone to be a source for a news story on the Trump or Clinton investigations.
In his opening remarks, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said, “A cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI’s objectivity.”
“I hope the FBI gets to the truth soon,” Grassley, R-Iowa, added. “We need the FBI to be accountable, because we need it to be effective.”
Grassley ran down a laundry list of issues he had with the FBI.
Besides the FBI, both chambers of Congress are investigating Russian interference in the presidential election.